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Geeking out
The line between geek chic and plain-old geek can be a fine one. A bow tie could be a fraction of an inch too thick, or there might be just a little too much room in the collar of a short-sleeve dress shirt.
There’s also the issue of the label. “You can’t have an uncool label for these clothes,” says Tom Julian, author of “The Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style.”
To ease into this new look favored by the hipsters who just a few seasons ago were touting tight jeans and skater sneakers, start with a striped shirt and an argyle sweater – or even sweater vest, says Scott Norris, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Men’s Wearhouse. After that, there’s a whole world of horn-rimmed glasses and wingtip shoes to be explored, but only if you feel comfortable in them.
Tips from the experts:
•“Geek chic is not an oversized silhouette,” Norris says. One of the best looks, he says, is a slim pinstripe suit, skinny tie and fitted short-sleeve dress shirt.
•With fitted clothes, body type matters. Norris says the best candidates are on the taller, slender side.
•Check out how designers Thom Browne, Band of Outsiders, Shipley & Halmos, Trovata and Duckie Brown are interpreting the look, Julian suggests. Retro brands Penguin, Gant, Hickey and Ben Sherman are also doing versions.
•Wear hair either slightly messy or very neat, says Brian Boye, Men’s Health fashion director.
•Try jackets – suits, sportcoats and even outerwear – with a higher armhole. A 2 3/4 -inch lapel looks more modern than a 3 3/4 inch, Norris notes.
•Skip the jacket altogether, and wear a cardigan or vest.
•If you go with a polo-collar shirt under a vest, turn the collar up and keep the shirt’s tails out, says Janie Bryant, “Mad Men’s” costume director.
•Embrace Buddy Holly-style, plastic-framed glasses in a Wayfarer shape or rounder horn-rimmed ones.
•Don’t go head-to-toe nerd, Julian says. Perhaps start with glasses, or a cardigan-tie or sweater vest-tie combo.
•Wear an untucked short-sleeve, button-down shirt on weekends.
•LeAnn Nealz, chief design officer at American Eagle, likes to see quirky argyle socks peeking out of wingtip shoes.
•“Don’t go in the direction of black socks and shorts,” Bryant advises.
Associated Press photos
… but it’s easy to drift into the Pee Wee Herman geek realm. Justin Timberlake can rock a bow tie … can you?

Nerd is new word in men’s fashion

Bow ties, argyle wear ushering in geek chic

Associated Press photos
Rapper Kanye West has long had a “preppy geek” look – lots of bow ties and argyle sweaters. The look is hot …

– Now that the cool-guy uniform – skinny jeans, layered T-shirt, tailored vest and stylish scarf, all in shades of gray and black – has reached every mall in the country, the trendsetters who started it have moved on.

And they’re going somewhere that few others can: They’re going geek chic.

This means adopting pieces that can be downright nerdy on almost everyone else, but transforming it with confidence and a good eye to make a bow tie the hippest thing around. Think Justin Timberlake – he’s the geek-chic role model cited by fashion experts.

His company in the sweater-vest club include Chuck Bass of “Gossip Girl,” Joe Jonas and The Killers. It’s like they all discovered the clothes from Don Draper’s “Mad Men” 1960s’-era closet in a vintage shop in Brooklyn.

They’re making a sort of anti-fashion statement, fashionably, says LeAnn Nealz, chief design officer of American Eagle, which is going with the look for fall.

“It’s for the guy who wants to be different, but it’s cool-looking. These are guys who might have a beard or put Clark Kent glasses on. … It’s a preppy geek, very Thom Browne-ish, but I think the celebrities interpreted it and made it more accessible.”

She adds: “I think it’s funny to them. Guys don’t have as much to play with in the fashion realm, so that’s what can be fun and interesting to them.”

Browne is considered an influential menswear designer – long a champion of the skewered preppy look – but with ideas so far ahead of the curve that the public needs years to get on board.

Now that the collective eye is used to it, some of his styles don’t seem so crazy, and more mainstream stores have added elements of mass appeal, says Tom Julian, author of “The Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style.”

And, Julian adds, knowing that all the department stores are now carrying gingham shirts, for example, takes away the scariness for those on the fence.

The timing is right for a new striking menswear look, he says, which hasn’t seen much change since Ed Hardy brought in bold embellishment in the early 2000s.

“Is it part of the political shift?” trend analyst Julian wonders. “You don’t want to look super-jazzed-up now. There’s some safety and stability in the ‘Mad Men’ and Kennedy era, and now it’s being done with a touch of humor.”

Brian Boye, fashion director at Men’s Health magazine, says, “For the past few decades, the term ‘geek’ seems to have undergone a change in meaning. Where it might have once been seen as a negative, geeks are now cool, if still bookish. Examples – The Geek Squad and Geeks on Call are the saviors of our electronics and computers. And many people self identify as geeks: theater geek, movie geek or history geek, for example.”

From sweater vests and argyle, you’re just a wingtip’s step away from plaids, short-sleeve dress shirts, short pants, Converse canvas sneakers and horn-rimmed glasses.

Notice these are all classic American sportswear?

“So many pieces are forever timeless,” says “Mad Men” costume designer Janie Bryant. “Every 20 years or so – the cool group did this in the ’80s, too – go back to them.”

They’re items that were never trendy but have had a presence in almost every decade of the 20th century. The safest way to test-drive geek chic is a black cashmere sweater vest, she says, but if you really want to look like you know what you’re doing, make it an argyle vest and wear a collar-up shirt with the tail hanging out.

“If you’re worried about it, you’re probably not the guy to wear this look,” adds Brian Spaly, founder and creative director of Bonobos, a trouser company. “If you smile and not take yourself too seriously, it works.”

Spaly sees a freedom in this style that isn’t allowed by anything considered a must-have look.

He envisions the “geek-chic” guy as a 25- to 40-year-old “who doesn’t want to wear Dockers ever again.”